Blogs for the New Year; Sermon from December 30

One of my resolutions for this year is to get back to blogging more often. I have quite a few ideas, but I hope to finish one this week. It will answer the question of why Knox Seminary requires students to read pagan poets and philosophers. I believe that there are very good reasons for this reading so check back later in the week to find out what they are. If you have other questions or issues that you would like to get my take on, just let me know.

On December 30 I was the guest speaker at Rio Vista Community Church. I spoke on the passage from Matthew 2 and the sadness that often follows Christmas. If you would like to listen, you can find the audio here http://riovistachurch.com/?s=lamerson

This morning (Jan 6) I spoke at Coral Ridge and will post the link to that sermon as soon as I have it.

I am never satisfied with my sermons, but God is gracious and uses His word despite the speaker. I hope you are blessed.

Happy New Year,

SamLam

My Visit to China-1

It was mid July and I was speaking to a group of Chinese students about what happened on this same day in 64 AD when Nero started the fire that burned Rome. Because he blamed it on the Christians, a great deal of persecution followed the event. I could not help but think about how many other people in this country of China had faced the same sort of persecution for their faith. Yet the room where I spoke (I can’t reveal much detail here) was packed despite the excessive heat, overcrowding, and lack of proper air-conditioning. These students desperately wanted to learn about the Scripture.

While things have changed in China, it is still a communist country and a foreigner like me was not allowed to teach in an illegal (yet acknowledged) school. I was a little nervous at times, but thought that if these people were willing to take the chance then I could do the same. They, after all risked jail. I doubted that they would arrest an American (but I didn’t know for sure).
It was clear that most of the students were poor even by Chinese standards. Yet they saw my coming as a great and wonderful opportunity to learn. In other teaching situations I usually hear begging from students to be let out early. Here I heard genuine requests to be kept late. I taught from 8:30-5:30 each day (with a lunch break) and the students would come back at night to study what I had taught during the day.

I don’t think that I have ever felt more loved or appreciated by a group of students than I did in China. On the last day the translator said to me “the students have a gift for you.” I was afraid that they had taken what little money they had and purchased me something but what I received was much more valuable. They wanted to sing for me a Chinese blessing on my work and travels. It was a very moving experience.
Yes, I saw the great wall, which was spectacular. I witnessed amazing Chinese acrobats. I walked on Tianamen square and entered the Forbidden City. Yet nothing was so amazing as what God is doing in Beijing. Please pray for my friends in China. They are beautiful children of God.

This is the first of several blogs about my visit to China. I’ll tell more about some of the customs and culture (public spitting, crowds everywhere, beautiful countryside) in my next post.

Baseball in Air-Conditioning

Let’s begin this with the admission that there are a lot of things that I don’t know. I have a friend who out of college had a job as Madeline Albright’s traveling helper. I had jobs as a chicken outside of a chicken restaurant, the moon-headed “Mac-Tonight” character for McDonalds (don’t worry Ronald is real, only Mac Tonight was fake), and the magician at way too many children’s birthday parties to count. Let’s just say that my mental dinning room set might be missing a chair. Even though I am willing to admit that I don’t know a lot of things, there are few things that I know. One of them is that BASEBALL SHOULD NOT BE PLAYED INSIDE.

Josiah, Charity, and I went to the Marlins-Cubs game today at the new “Miami Marlin’s Stadium.” It reminded me of the times when they were little and we used to go to the minor league West Palm Beach Expos games at least once a week; of the times when they were a little older and we used to ride the EL down to Wrigley in the spring. It was great to see the ivy starting to come back, to feel the slight chill of the spring air, and even to get rained on sometimes. That was all part of the experience; part of the game; part of the tradition.

The new Marlin’s stadium is beautiful inside. There are aquariums behind home plate, though I can imagine what the fish think when a ninety-seven mile an hour fast-ball get fouled off right into their face. That can’t be good for the fish’s heart and I noticed that they were not kissing the glass after than happened. There are wonderful seats, and thanks to my friend, I had some of the best in the ballpark. Even the worst seats seem pretty close to the action and capable of getting a foul ball. The skyline of Miami is nice, if you like that kind of thing, and the home run “congratulatory marlin spinning in a circle while water shoots out” seemed nice, though it was not needed during the game and I wonder how often it will be needed during the season.

The real problem that I had was that we were sitting in air-conditioned comfort. Isn’t part of loving baseball something about suffering? You suffer when your team does poorly (I am a Cubs fan and an expert at this particular skill); you suffer when a great player gets hurt; you suffer when a foul ball glances off you your hand and a girl (a girl) in back of you gets it, although this has never happened to me (as far as you know); and you suffer when you watch the game in South Florida because it’s hot. That’s part of the deal. That’s what the true fan signs up for. That’s what baseball is all about. Just like the Tom Hanks character says in “A League of Their Own,” “There’s no crying in baseball;” I want to say “There’s no air-conditioning in baseball.”

How am I supposed to conjure up memories of Wrigley field on a cold night in October when I am sitting in climate-controlled freshness? How can I remember taking the kids to a warm day game, smelling grass (as well the grass on the field), seeing the fans sitting on top of the apartment building on Sheffield avenue, watching the bleacher bums throwing back home run balls, and slowly viewing the night overtake the city of Chicago?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad the Marlin’s have their own stadium. I glad that I no longer have to sit in the “end-zone” trying to see the pitch from a crooked seat, far out in left field. I’m not glad, however, that I have to do it inside. It just doesn’t seem right to me.

Maybe I’m just a grouchy old man, but I want the same experience I had when the kids were little. I guess I’ll never get that. Now that they have jobs they won’t depend on me to buy their snacks and souvenirs. They won’t depend on me to make sure that they don’t get lost in the crowd. They don’t need to depend on me to protect them anymore. Maybe it’s that which I miss more than the outside play. Maybe I just long for the time when I was the dad who would do “anything” if asked by one of my little aliens. Maybe I long for the past instead of the stadium.

But game moves on. We all realize that we will eventually be in the later innings of our life and we know that sooner or later, even if there are extra innings, the game is going to come to an end. Maybe I just want one more game like we had back then.

Like I said, there are lots of things I don’t know. But I do know that I have had some great times at baseball games and that all of them have been outside. But for now I’ll take an inside game and think back to when the ivy was coming back, Harry Caray was still leading “Take Me Out To the Ballgame,” my kids thought going to the game on the EL was a great adventure, and the Cubs flag held up a W. Memories like these are golden trophies that don’t need polishing. Time makes them shine. Maybe time will make today such a memory, because it was still baseball, inside or not.

BLOG AND MAYBLOG: God’s judgment on blogs and Facebook posts

A lie can get around the world twice while the truth is still putting on its pants.
– A. Lincoln

While Abe Lincoln could not have foreseen the Internet, his words could have been spoken with blogs and Facebook posts in mind. Two events happened this morning to remind me of what a terrible thing the Internet can be. No, I don’t speak of porn, political ads, or even the misuse of chimps on YouTube clips. Rather I speak of “Christian” blogs and Facebook posts.

This morning I was made aware of two events the likes of which happen all too frequently on the web. The first was a Facebook post attacking a theologian who not only has forgotten more about the Bible than I will ever know, but how is also one of the most Godly men that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. The post was unkind, unfair, and worst of all, untrue. It was posted, of course, by another Christian who wanted to “warn others of the error.” The difference between warning others of error and taking potshots at a brother or sister seems to me to be the same line that is used to distinguish between sharing gossip and sharing “prayer request for (insert name here) who was caught doing (insert sin that no one knows you are guilty of here).

To make bad matters even worse the post shared links to blogs that mischaracterized this gracious gentleman in even shoddier terms. I suppose the Facebook poster could claim that he was “simply sharing information for those who desired it.” Unfortunately, this claim does not absolve anyone from the sin of bearing false witness.

After hearing and reading about the Facebook post I learned of another problem. A student at a particular school found negative information about the school and some of its faculty on (need I even say it) blogs. The student, rather than going to his professors, went to some of those named on the blogs and became convinced that he had entered an institution that was not orthodox. Again, the Internet at its finest.

After hearing about these events, I was reading (providentially) Genesis 37. This is the start of the Joseph story. In Genesis 37:2 the text says, “Joseph brought a bad report of them [his brothers] to their father.” The verse here seems to indicate that Joseph was wrong in bringing this report. In fact Wenham, in his Word Biblical Commentary, translates the phrase as “Joseph told tales” and later points out that the Hebrew word used for this action is “always used elsewhere in a negative sense of an untrue report.” Thus Joseph’s “report bringing” is indeed a negative action. A reminder to all of us to be careful about the “tales” that we tell.

The Westminster confession (as well as many other confessions) in speaking about the Ten Commandments, reminds us that while the commands are mostly negative, that they imply positive actions. So, for example, the command not to kill implies that we are also to try to save those who are being killed (in Nazi Germany for example). We are commanded not to lie, but this also implies that we are to do our best to set the truth straight when we can. That is we are commanded to try to protect those who have been lied about, not to pass on unconfirmed attacks and slander.

This sort of slander and hateful speech is a terrible sin. It harms the Church of our Lord, and hurts individuals in ways that we can only imagine. There are those who argue that the great pastor Charles Spurgeon’s life was shortened as a result of his battles with those who were jealous gossips, passing along whatever negative statement they could find, regardless of its truthfulness.

Lest you get the wrong idea, I certainly am not against all blogs or the Internet (it seems unnecessary to state this since you are reading it on a blog, but I wanted to be clear). I only mean to communicate the need for us all to be careful about what we say and be particularly careful (because it lasts so much longer and is so much more public) about what we post, tweet, re-tweet, blog, wall-to-wall, “like,” or even point our browsers toward.

Let us all post with the knowledge that one day we will stand before God and he will ask us “Did you check those facts before you posted that?” What will we say? I used to sing a song in Sunday School that reminded us to “be careful little feet where you go, or be careful little eyes what you see.” In this Internet age we could add another verse to the song, “be careful little fingers what you post.” Let us all strive to “tell the truth” even when it might be inconvenient.

*Blog and Mayblog is the name of Doug Wilson’s blog. I wish that I had thought of it.

N. T. Wright Interview with Logos

This is a great interview with one of my favorite theologians (though I do have my differences with him), N. T. Wright. He speaks of the need for reading the original languages, the importance of reading those with whom we disagree, and the wonder of reading God’s word. It is worth the ten minutes it takes to listen to it.

It comes from Logos Bible Software, my go to source for my own work.

I hope you enjoy it.

SamLam

Good Books for the Summer

As many of you already know, I am on sabbatical. Contrary to some popular ideas, a sabbatical is not a vacation, but a time for uninterrupted research, writing, and planning additions to existing courses as well as creating new courses.

One of the courses that I am creating during this time will be called “New Testament Backgrounds.” This course will deal with the inter-testamental period as well as the time of Christ up to the destruction of the temple. We will read selections from Josephus, the Dead Sea scrolls, the letters of Pliny, Philo, and other literature from the period.

With this course in mind I have been doing a lot of reading in the area of backgrounds and thought that I would recommend a few books that you might find enjoyable as well as educational. The first three are novels, but novels that are informed by good historical scholarship. The newest is called  The Hitchhikers Guide to Jesus and is a wonderful book that anyone who is studying the Gospels, traveling to Israel, or just wants to know more about the background to Jesus studies should read. The second novel is called The Shadow of the Galilean Amazon Link. This is a novel about the time of Jesus and how those living at the time would have reacted to his message. A short letter explaining the historical method for the actions of the characters follows each chapter. The footnotes are great and the novel is well researched. The third novel is The Lost Letters of Pergamum and while the first two books mentioned deal with Jewish history and historical Jesus studies, this book deals more with the Roman history and society. Any or all of these three novels would be great summer reading for the person (like me) who loves stories, but wants to learn more about the New Testament.

A fourth book is not a novel but is very interesting nonetheless. It is called The Reliability of the New Testament. This book is a discussion between Bart Ehrman and Dan Wallace. Both of these men are well known in the field of textual criticism and the question asked is this “Why would God perfectly inspire a book and then allow copyists errors to creep in?” That is, in what sense can we say that the New Testament that we have today is “inspired and without error?” Ehrman is well known for his skeptical position and calls himself a “happy agnostic.” His book Misquoting Jesus made its way to the New York times bestseller list. Wallace is an evangelical who is well known and respected in the textual critical field. The discussion between the two is enlightening and at times very entertaining. If you would like to know more about textual criticism (and no real background is required to understand the book) this is a valuable resource.

Well that’s about it for the books I have been reading this week, but I’ll try to be more regular in posting things that I am reading and projects that I am working on, just in case they might be of interest to you. For now, I am heading back to the books!

Tolle Lege,

SamLam

Light Summer Reading

I am in the midst of reading completely though all of Josephus’s works this summer. You might find this a great book for the beach, though at about 1500 pages of double columns it can be a little heavy. For those of you who are not familiar with the works of Josephus, he was a historian who wrote from around 60 a.d. until about 95 a.d.

His works are varied, with two of them being very important to the student of the New Testament.  His Antiquities is a history of the Jewish people from the creation of Adam to the Roman Empire’s takeover of Israel.  In this text he is very dependent upon the Hebrew Bible as well as upon other apocryphal works.  It is important because it helps the reader understand how the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) was understood during the second temple period.  While much of the information comes from the writings of the OT, a good bit of it also comes from other sources, particularly when he is dealing with the history of the time between the Old and New Testaments.

The second very important work is called The Jewish War and deals with what has been called the Maccabean rebellion, the Roman takeover and the eventual destruction of the temple.  Without this writing, we would know much, much less about what happened during the period between Antiochus IV (Epiphanies) and the destruction of the temple.  It has been said, “all philosophy consists of footnotes to Plato.”  It can just as reliably be said, “The history of the second temple consists of footnotes to Josephus.”

Josephus is available very inexpensively today both in print, on the Internet, and through www.logos.com (my go to Bible study software).  If you want to really understand the history of the time before and during Christ’s time here on earth, there is no substitute for reading Josephus.

This is not to say that he is always accurate, or even always honest.  It is true; nonetheless that much of what Josephus has to say has strong historical backing and can be very helpful in understanding both New Testament backgrounds as well as the times of the New Testament itself.

One of the most controversial items in Josephus is his mention of Jesus Christ (there are about twenty different people named Jesus mentioned in Josephus, one reason that there is no need to get excited when a tomb of Jesus is found, it is much like a tomb of John Smith being found today).  What we have in the current version of Josephus in which he speaks of the Jesus of the New Testament sounds as if Josephus considered him to be the messiah.  In reading the rest of Josephus’s work, it is clear that this is not the case (Jesus Christ is only mentioned twice, once in passing).

This problem has led many to argue that the mention of Christ is an interpolation, that is a Christian insertion.  While this is possible, it is unlikely.  What is more likely is that Christian copyists who preserved these works have altered this passage.  This is a complex issue and I will leave you to your own study, but I hope that I have encouraged you to, at the very least, find a copy of the works of Josephus and do a little reading.  It will help your understanding of the Bible very much.

 

Tolle Lege,

 

DSL

 

I don’t want to go off on a rant here but…

“If people would only talk about what they knew the world would be a much quieter place.”

–Albert Einstein

I have been thinking over the last few months about Harold Camping and his (once again) wrong prediction about the rapture.  Yes I knew it would be wrong months ago when I heard one of his workers try to justify the theory.
For anyone who has been living in a cave, or more likely who are not exposed to the weirdness that is my life, Harold Camping predicted the beginning of the end, the rapture, the “great callin’ up,” the start of the tribulation.  This prediction was certain this time (as opposed to last time) and was Saturday, May 20, 2011.  Despite all the billboards, ads, parties, and advertising trucks driving around the country, alas nothing happened.  At least nothing that a foolish academic like myself could see.  Brother Harold insists that this is the beginning of God’s judgment even if it didn’t turn out the way he expected.

What made me so sure about the wrongheadedness of Camping’s prediction was the manner in which he arrived at it.  Camping claimed to have worked his way backward all the way to the first day of creation and had come to learn that May 20th was the last day.

Let’s first all agree that no one can work their way back to the day of creation.  The text of the Bible is simply not meant to show that.  The genealogies in the Scripture are theological rather than primarily historical.  Now before you gather up stones, let me say that the genealogies are historical in the sense that they really happened and what is being reported is real history.  What the reader should not assume is that the biblical genealogies are meant to fill in every single person.  There are gaps in the lists that are left there for theological reasons.  A simple look at the gospel of Matthew’s genealogy will convince anyone that Matthew is constructing his list around the theme of exile and redemption-a theological theme, and that there are many fathers, grandfathers, and even more grandmothers who are missing from the list.  Any one who thinks that he (and I use the male pronoun here because these crazy predictions are rarely made by the fairer sex) can trace the lineage of Jesus using just the information that Matthew has given us is simply in desperate need of a calculator or a lab partner who knows how to use one.

There is no sense in with the genealogies in the text intend to show how much time has passed because there are gaps, people left out, of the list.  Telling us the TIME OF THE END OF THE WORLD IS NOT THE POINT OF THE GENEOLOGIES.  As I tell my students if your point and the Scripture’s point are different, I’d change one of them, (they know which one).

I am a little fired up about this nonsense because it brings shame upon the cause of Christ and His Church.  Brothers and Sisters this should not be.  Let us all covenant now to never again purchase a windmill because of a computer programmer’s mistake that would bankrupt the world at midnight on Y2K.  Let us never again think “Well, he’s a pastor, he might know.”  If the Lord himself didn’t know then the “Rev. Pokey” from the Possum Swallow Nebraska’s Church of the holy snake handling won’t know either.

Three rules from the SamLam college for biblical knowledge: Read the Bible, what does it really say; pray to the Lord, what does he really say; and for the love of pete stay off the crack pipe.  We have enough problems on our hands.

This has been a rant but a needed one.  The church must get past being seen as  Deacon Chim-Chim who, looking up in the stars each night for her own white horse because horse Sunday is here.  It is a disgrace to the church and a disgrace to our savior that nothing is being done to publicize the event where each church gets its own angel horse. That troubles me when one of my kind (and by kind I mean readneck) says something so stupid that the atheists have parties for it.

I think that is enough ranting for now.  Look back up to the Einstein quotation above and don’t you dare ask me about the Mayan calendar.

The Prophet Sambo